When friends come to visit here in NYC they often ask me for recommendations, which I’m happy to give them. Of course, I can never remember everything. Hence this list, which I can now forward to them — and edit over time as things tend to open and close at a tremendous rate. 😔 Hopefully, it’s useful to you, too! Consider this a work in progress, which I’ll update periodically.
🌟 Some Favorites 🌟
- The Breslin, at the ACE Hotel — amazing lamb burger and thrice cooked fries, as well as other great food. Great decor inside, too.
- Keen’s near Herald Square, hands-down my favorite steak house in NYC. Lots of history here. Very New York. Incredibly old school. The atmosphere is amazing, too: Keen’s used to be a club, where gentlemen could smoke their wooden pipes. Now, there’s a display in the entryway of pipes from famous people including Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and loads of others. Go into the dining room, tho, and thousands of pipes are bundled together to line the entire ceiling. This is probably my favorite steakhouse anywhere. I had my bachelor party here.
- Freemans — though it’s not a secret restaurant, per se, Freemans (no apostrophe!) is hidden down the dark end of Freeman Alley. In addition to great food, they’re know for their hot toddies, “grandpa’s coffee” (e.g. grandpa likes a lil sumthin in his coffee), and steaming hot artichoke dip. Freeman’s takes rustic to a new level: there are enough animal heads on the wall to qualify for a taxidermist’s convention. I don’t know why there’s no apostrophe in their name, but that is not a typo. Oh, and don’t forget the lumberjack bartenders. Amy serenaded me with Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” on our first date there and I knew I’d have to ask her out again.
- Dallas BBQ — Every list of recommendations deserves its guilty pleasure and this list has Dallas BBQ. No, it’s nowhere near the best BBQ in town. (For that, see my dedicated list below.) Yes, it’s usually incredibly noisy and crowded. But it’s a long-time favorite for me, especially the East Village location I’ve been going to for nearly a decade. The food is cheap. The margaritas are huuuge. And the people watching is exceptional — especially from the seats outside facing St Mark’s. No frills, no pretense, no apologies from me for enjoying this place. (Yes, I’ve actually had people question my taste for going here. Whatever. If I want haute cuisine, I’ll go elsewhere!)
- Rachel’s Taqueria — Sometimes, we refer to Rachel’s as our kitchen. It’s scarcely a 30-second walk from our Brooklyn apartment and most of the staff recognize us there. We love the colorful Mexi-Cal vibe inside, too. Update: Unfortunately, Rachel’s closed but it reopened under the same management and new chefs as Chela, which serves excellent Mexican cuisine and margaritas.
🍖 BBQ 🍖
Believe it or not, we have some excellent BBQ in New York now.
Some examples …
- Mighty Quinn’s, East Village
- Fette Sau, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
- Morgan’s Barbecue, Brooklyn (near Barclay Center)
- Dinosaur BBQ, Brooklyn and Harlem
- Hill Country BBQ, Manhattan and Brooklyn, often has live country and bluegrass music, too
🍖 Steak Houses 🍖
- Keen’s is the best. See favorites above if you skipped that.
- Peter Luger, Williamsburg, more famous than Keen’s, though I prefer Keen’s. Did I mention Keen’s is the best?
- Strip House — A comfy, slightly bawdy steakhouse that trades in on puns of its name. Located near Union Square, it’s generally much easier to get a table here than at Keen’s or Peter Luger
🍔 Burgers 🍔
- The Breslin’s lamb burger with thrice-cooked fries
- Rose’s — a relatively new Brooklyn bar, which quickly won a reputation for their excellent burger
- Shake Shack, a New York staple now with multiple locations for great burgers, fries, shakes, etc. Try the original in Madison Park. The line may be long, but it moves fairly quickly. Plus you can sit outside and eat in a lovely New York park, which usually features some sort of art installation, too.
🍳 Brunch 🍳
- Balthazar for an iconic Soho spot
- Gemma — also in the NoHo area and known for celebrity spotting (Hello, Marc Maron!)
- Cafe Gitane — my favorite place for avocado toast and strong coffee (Americanos only)
- NoHo Star — a NoHo classic, I saw the lovely Lauren Hutton here three times in a row. Update: Unfortunately, this NYC institution closed for good.
🍺 Beer 🍺
- Barcade — the original one in Williamsburg. There are two more in Manhattan now (see below).
- Brooklyn Brewery — by now an old NYC standby, Brooklyn Brewery recently renovated and they have a special tasting room you can reserve. We also have a pop-up version of our bakery Sweetly Brooklyn there from time to time. And they have a great swag shop!
- Other Half — Brewery and small bar with some of the best IPAs you’ll ever drink a short walk from our place in the Gowanus area.
- Owl Farm — A 30-second walk from our apartment and one of the best beer selections in all of New York. These guys know exactly what I like, too.
- Mission Dolores — Sister bar to Owl Farm also has an excellent selection and an outdoor area, which is great to hang out in in the summer.
- Threes Brewing
- 124 Rabbit Club — kinda hidden downstairs bar on MacDougal with an excellent beer selection. Like it so much, I spent part of my bachelor party here
- Arts & Crafts — Great selection, friendly bar tenders and art on display to boot. Two locations now: One on 8th Street in the Village. The other on Amsterdam up near Columbia. Both really cozy. I had my first ever photo exhibit at the 8th Street location in 2016.
- Barcade — Great beer and old school upright video games. Multiple locations now, too, including Brooklyn, Chelsea and the East Village on St. Mark’s.
- Blind Tiger — In the West Village and often packed out, but a great selection.
- Burp Castle — Belgian beer at this “quiet bar” in the East Village. Yes, they really will “shush” you if you get to loud. A great place to chill over a beer in Manhattan and actually enjoy a quiet conversation or read a book. Enjoy the delightfully ribald mural featuring cavorting monks, which covers the walls, too. Occasionally, the bar tenders will still don a monastic robe to enhance the setting, too. My rather lengthy Yelp review here. We refer to this place as “church.”
- Cannibal Beer & Butcher — E. 29th Street
- Pony Bar — Hell’s Kitchen and 1st Ave & 75th Street locations
- Proletariat — St. Mark’s, East Village
- Rattle & Hum — big Irish-style pub on E. 33rd Street but with an excellent craftbeer selection and solid pub food. Now one open on the West side, too.
- Upright Brew Pub
- Alewife — Excellent pub food and craft beer in this roomy Long Island City (LIC) bar. Now a microbrewery with great beer, too!
- Big Alice Brewing — Lovely little LIC micro-brewery, which is growing fast. Little tasty room and a diverse range of beers, which they update regularly. Generally pretty high-octane, there beers are often made with unusual, locally-sourced ingredients such as mushrooms and ancho peppers.
- Bierocracy — Roomy LIC gastropub with craft beer, giant pretzels, and solid food. Conveniently located next door to my wife’s bakery Pink Canary, too!
- Bohemian Beer Hall — legendary Queens beer hall, which has a huge outdoor area and a line down the block in the summer. Regular beer, to be honest, but Czech/German food, too, and a very convivial atmosphere. Occasional live music, too.
- Craft Culture — We’ve become friends with the owner of this excellent craft beer bar (and store!), which also serves exceptionally good bar food and has a really fun Thursday night: Trivia with 3 beers for the price of 2!
- Fifth Hammer — Great beer, lots of space. So many excellent breweries in Long Island City now.
- Finback — Some of the best beer in New York is being made here now. Utterly excellent IPAs and stouts. It’s a haul to get there but a great space with great employees. We’ve taken our pop-up there a few times already.
- LIC Beer Project — Excellent beer brewed on location and great atmosphere. They often have food and our bakery makes appearances there. (Noticing a theme?)
- Rockaway Brewing Company — Great LIC location, limited but tasty selection. They moved here from the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy. They reopened an outpost out there at Rockaway Beach again a couple of years ago, which has a great taco stand and sells records, as well.
🍸 Cocktails 🍸
- Angel’s Share — speakeasy vibe hidden in an upstairs East Village Japanese restaurant
- Apotheke — hidden gem in Chinatown with excellent if pricey cocktails
- The Campbell Apartment — Enjoy this plush, gorgeous bar within GrandCentral Terminal and its old-school feel quickly as club developers are apparently taking it over. Its famous Prohibition Punch is a bit pricey but worth the extra $$$. Great date place and our pal, the phonograph DJ Michael Cumella plays there periodically. Update: Sadly, closed, though it reopened in some fashion under new management. Haven’t been there lately. The fear was that it would possibly be ruined forever.
- Little Branch — looks like a plain, unobtrusive building from the outside. Open the door though and there’s a lovely bar with handcrafted cocktails downstairs.
- Please Don’t Tell — the classic East Village speakeasy bar, which you have to enter through a telephone booth in Crif Dogs. Expect a wait on Fridays and weekends tho.
- Pouring Ribbons
☕ Coffee & Bakeries ☕
Some of these have multiple locations …
- Sweetly Brooklyn — formerly Pink Canary — my wife Amy’s bakery is now located in Park Slope, though typically only by appointment. I’m biased, of course, but she makes the most amazing (beer) brownie you’ve ever had, as well as custom-designed cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, cookies and macarons. Amy also hosts birthday parties at the shop and teaches classes there. We also rotate different artist’s work through the space, including my own photography.
- Bourke Street Bakery — This excellent Aussie bakery and patisserie, just opened in May 2019 on 28th Street in Manhattan. Worth a visit if you don’t mind the line. Possibly the best sausage roll I’ve ever had. In the U.S. or Australia.
- MUDspot — an East Village staple — great coffee and food — family run and it feels like it. Famous for its orange vans, which used to deliver coffee to the masses around Astor Place (right between two Starbucks) and Union Square.
- Culture Espresso — Aussie-owned, near Times Square, Bryant Park.
- Blue Bottle, right across from Bryant Park, as well as other locations (Dean Street in Brooklyn now, 7th Ave in Park Slope, Hudson Yards, and more)— try the very strong but delicious New Orleans iced coffee.
- Cafe Grumpy — multiple locations
- Joe Coffee — multiple locations, but the original in the West Village is the quaintest. You may even do some celebrity spotting there.
- Tuck Shop — Dinkum Aussie pies in the East Village. Also sausage rolls, lamingtons and vanilla slices. Friendly folks, open late. Update: Very sadly. Now closed. :(
- Dominique Ansel, SoHo, where they make the cronuts, but good luck getting one unless you’re there super early.
- Ceci-Cela — Fabulous patisserie in a tiny space on Spring Street in NoLIta. I’m addicted to their chocolate-almond croissants. Delicious eclairs and other pastries, too, as well as limited seating way in the back. Update: Sadly, this original location has closed after I went there for over decade. There’s a new location on Delancey. It doesn’t have same cozy, old-school feel to it but the pastries remain excellent.
🍨 Ice Cream 🍨
- Il Laboratoria Gelato — Worth a visit, for sure, and right across from the very famous Katz’s deli
- Grom — the West Village closed, but one remains near Central Park — actually an Italian import, but amazing nonetheless
- Van Leeuwen — “Artisan” ice cream in the East Village and several other locations (both Manhattan and Brooklyn), including the original yellow ice-cream truck. Founded by Aussies as I’m duty-bound to inform you.
🎵 Record Shops 🎵
- Academy Records — In the East Village and Greenpoint (Brooklyn) includes a great selection of vinyl with an especially good jazz selection
- Captured Tracks
- Other Music — The “Other” was originally a joke, as they were across the road from Tower Records. Tower’s long gone now, but Other is still there. Update: Other Music has closed, too. Huge loss for the NYC music scene.
- Permanent Records — Truly odd location upstairs in what looks like a Park Slope commercial building but an excellent selection.
- Rough Trade — Yes, this store near the East River in Williamsburg almost qualifies as a big box store, but it’s a music lover’s delight, too. Also a concert venue. I saw Phosphorescent there for free. Worth making the trudge from the L train stop at Bedford, for sure.
📚 Bookstores 📚
- The Strand bookstore — I could spend hours in here. A New York institution. Almost on par with Powell’s in Portland, OR. Almost.
- Housing Works Bookstore, SoHo — Not only a wonderful bookstore, whose profits go to an excellent cause, but we also got married there!
🎶 Live Music 🎶
- Bell House — Great music venue in Brooklyn often has comedy and other live shows as well as many well-known bands and musicians.
- Rockwood Music Hall — rotating music in their three stages, there’s different live music pretty much every hour and often for free. Lots of good local music and often some well-known names, too.
- Smalls — Live jazz every night at this excellent, classic Greenwich Village venue.
🗽 Various Attractions 🗽
- The Highline
- Whitney Museum — great art and amazing views
- Union Square — Some may think of Times Square or even Central Park as the heart of Manhattan, but, for me, it’s Union Square. Practically every subway line intersects there. So do New Yorkers of every ethnicity and socio-economic level. You’ll see junkies, artists and models. I saw TED prize-winner, photojournalist James Nachtwey strolling through Union Square late one night. And Peter Dinklage walking his dog. At the Market (select days), you can shop for fresh fruit and vegetables straight from area farmers. Eat at any one of a myriad of restaurants. Or just hang out in Union Square itself, watching the skaters, musicians or outdoor theater, or listening to the constant parade of passionate and/or crazy people preaching their sermons and conspiracy theories. And it’s free. Just steer clear of the Scientologists.
Stay tuned for periodic updates …
If you’d like to see recommendations for specific interests, let me know and I’ll add what I can.